"A short stretch of mostly overgrown railway, a remnant from the colonial past, still exists on the outskirts of Battambang, Cambodia. Climb on a makeshift trolley, hang on, and go for a ride on the famous bamboo train.
Locals used the bamboo trains (or nori in Khmer) to transport goods and people to other villages during the civil war, when they were a cheap and even a pretty fast mode of transport. Originally the nori were propelled by hand, but nowadays they have either a tractor or a motorcycle engine attached."
The locals on the Bamboo Train
The departure of the Bamboo Train is in one of the in the outskirts of
the town Battambang. The Bamboo Train or norry is a basic flat platform measuring about 3 meters long by roughly 2 meters wide with a steel frame on wheels and bamboo slats for a floor. The locals use them for transporting themselves and their goods to market, the tourists use them for a slice of local life and for fun.
The network of the train is originally built by French colonial settlers, but it is largely abandoned.
The rail line stretches all the way down from Battambang to the capital of Phnom Penh. The tracks lie in complete abandon and disrepair.
The train runs from a town called O Dambong,
almost 4km south of town on the east bank south of Battambang's Old French Bridge to O Sra Lav, southeast of Battambang. The Khmer word O means 'stream'.
The ride only takes about 30 minutes, but they are 30 exciting minutes.
The local people have created here their own rail service using little more than pieces of bamboo. The locals call the vehicles "norry", or "lorry", but overseas visitors know them as "bamboo trains".
A tiny electric generator engine provides the power.
The passenger accommodation is a bamboo platform that rests on top of two sets of wheels. A dried-grass mat to sit on counts as a luxury.
Each bamboo train consists of a 3m-long wood frame, covered lengthwise with slats made of ultra-light bamboo, that rests on two barbell-like bogies, the aft one connected by fan belts to a 6HP gasoline engine.
Building up a Bamboo Train
If they come head-to-head with another train, the they have to stop both. The two operators will simply disassemble one of the trains, lifting the car off its little trucks, and
they will set the whole mess along the trackside. Then the train that remains on the track will pass the other, stop again, and the “engineers” will work together again to re-assemble the train back onto the tracks.
The turnaround point is a tiny village amidst the trees, O Sra Lav. There is a shop selling refreshments and some bamboo train souvenirs.
The bamboo trains have been an unofficial part of the Cambodian transport network for years. The official railways survived decades of civil war and sabotage by the Khmer Rouge, but all those years without maintenance have taken their toll. Recent cuts to the timetable of the official railway mean
that the official service to Phnom Penh now departs just once a week, and local people are left little alternative but to use the bamboo trains.
A three- or four-hour private excursion costs around US$10, or you can hop on with the locals; departures are most frequent in the morning.
For the best scenery, head towards Phnom Penh. One option is to get off at the village of Chheu Tom and catch a moto to Chhuk Laeng Cascades (Chroek Laeng Waterfall; one hour), situated 73km southeast of Pursat and 41km south of Krakor (on NH5 near Kompong Luong).